There’s trouble a-brewing between Auntie and the UKs Internet Service Providers over the recently launched video-on-demand iPlayer service.
iPlayer lets users stream or download recent BBC TV shows as a kind of ‘catch-up’ service. In its first month, the Beeb reports that over 1 million viewers downloaded some 3.5 million program. As you can imagine, this caused a bit of strain on the networks.
But did the ISPs accept that greater bandwidth traffic was just part and parcel of evolving internet usage and accept that upgrades were necessary? The fuck it did. Simon Gunter from Tiscali reckons that the BBC should be contributing to the cost of these upgrades!
“The question is about whether we invest in extra capacity or go to the consumer and ask them to pay a BBC tax,” he added.
Go ahead Simon – give this BBC tax a whirl… let’s just see what happens. Let me know how it works out for you, m’kay?
This whole nasty spat has in part arisen from a blog post by Ashley Highfield, head of future media and technology at the BBC, which outlines some ways in which ISPs can help deal with the recent explosion in using the internet for watching TV content.
“Content providers [such as iPlayer] , if they find their content being specifically squeezed, shaped, or capped, could start to indicate on their sites which ISPs their content works best on (and which to avoid),” Highfield wrote.
Apparently this touched a nerve at Tiscali, which has also been catching some flak recently for its speed throttling practises and traffic ‘shaping’ – specifically its dislike of even legitimate P2P services during peak times.
“Inflammatory comments about blacklisting ISPs do not help. There seems to be a lack of understanding about how networks are built. Either we are not explaining it properly or it is falling on deaf ears,” Mr Gunter said in response to Highfield’s suggestion.
To my mind there only seems to be one misunderstanding here: the definition of the term ‘unlimited’. All the various throttling, shaping and capping stories that have been kicking up a stink in recent months are down to one thing – ISPs trying to flog so-called unlimited packages at as cheap a price as possible and are then getting rather upset when people actually want to use them in any serious capacity. Apparently Tiscali stumbled into the ISP business under some strange assumption that the internet was only there for instant messaging and the odd email.
And seeing as it is our license fees that pay for the BBC, Tiscali might as well go ahead and introduce a BBC tax for its users, I damn well don’t want my money being used so that Tiscali users can benefit from its upgraded network.
The wider issue surrounding this related back to the growing hysteria about the internet ‘gridlock’ which we’re apparently expecting as soon as 2010. At least with iPlayer at the centre of this latest row, it is shifting the focus of blame to legitimate video sources and not attempting to scapegoat the far more appealing target of illegal file sharing websites. This way we may even get a fair discussion of whether ISPs have actually been misleading customers with their ‘unlimited’ claims.